By Dermot Doherty and Naomi Kresge
Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Novartis AG, Switzerland’s second- biggest drugmaker, said its experimental oral treatment FTY720 kept multiple sclerosis at bay in a study.
The medicine cut annualized relapse rates by 38 to 52 percent in the study, depending on the dose, compared with treatment with Biogen Idec Inc.’s interferon therapy Avonex, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said today.
The compound was “generally well-tolerated” and the side effects were in line with previous trials, Novartis said. Seven patients in the study were diagnosed with skin cancer in the FTY720 group, compared with one patient in the interferon group. All the skin cancers were successfully removed, the Swiss company said. Novartis already reported two fatal herpes infections in patients being treated with its drug, which suppresses the immune system.
“The safety profile of FTY720 has been a primary concern for investors, and over time more and more safety issues have shown up,” Tim Anderson, an analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., wrote in a note to investors. “It is important to realize, however, that all currently available MS drugs have significant side effects.”
Novartis fell as much as 3 percent to 53.5 Swiss francs in Swiss trading. The stock declined 60 centimes, or 1.1 percent, to 54.55 francs at 11:54 a.m.
The Swiss drugmaker said it will release full results at a major scientific conference in 2009. The company plans to ask regulators in Europe and the U.S. by the end of 2009 to approve FTY720, potentially the first oral pill for multiple sclerosis.
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